Connors cancels Phoenix party

Wellington Phoenix 1-1 Brisbane Roar.

By Kieran Yap (4/3/23).

Above: Wellington Phoenix celebrate Marisa Van Der Meer’s goal against Brisbane Roar. Photo: @WgtnPhoenixFC twitter

As far as low scoring draws go, the match between Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar was one of the more entertaining games of the round. Goals from Marisa Van Der Meer and Shea Connors meant that the honours were shared, but this was a game filled with subplots, coaching maneuvers, and brilliant individual play.

In an inconvenient compliment to both sides, this game was effected by The Young Matildas camp. Claudia Cicco was called up from Wellington’s squad, while Zara Kruger was Brisbane’s representative in the Under 20 Australian team.

The Roar were also without Larissa Crummer and Katrina Gorry for this match, which meant a slight reshuffle of Brisbane’s midfield and attack. Hollie Palmer was pushed slightly further forward than usual. Her creativity has been crucial for The Roar so far this season.

Going into this round she was only behind Sydney FC’s Mackenzie Hawkesby for chances created. Brisbane captain Ayesha Norrie played a hybrid role. The talismanic midfielder drifted between midfield and defence depending on the momentum of the game and state of possession.

It was in attack, where the most interesting move was made by Roar coach Garreth McPherson. Without Crummer, Sharn Freier was introduced on the left wing and Shea Connors shifted into a central role.

Connors was dominant as a centre forward in the NSW NPLW last season. Her mobility, dribbling, and tenacity provided Brisbane with their best moments. She can play with her back to goal and has the ability to take players on. The two-footed striker is a threat from either side of the penalty box and the change in position made Brisbane a threat even though Wellington dominated possession.

The Phoenix have grown in confidence as the season has gone on. Much of that has been the gradual overcoming of injuries, but also the emergence of new stars. Players like Michaela Foster and Millie Clegg have given them class and depth. Paige Satchell and Alyssa Whinham are both very handy players to be able to bring off the bench, and Wellington’s growth as a squad means that Natalie Lawrence can be more creative with line-up decisions and impact games with substitutions.

Wellington controlled the majority of possession on their home turf. Without Gorry, Brisbane made few attempts to hold onto the ball, and instead tried to get the ball long to Connors and Indiah-Paige Riley as quickly as possible.

Brisbane’s direct style forged almost opened the scoring. Connors surged down the middle of the pitch, but could only win a corner despite the electric turn of pace.

Wellington’s dominance was rewarded with the opening goal in the 26th minute. Foster has earned a reputation as a dangerous set-piece taker this season. Her free kick to set up Van Der Meer’s header affirmed her status as one of the Phoenix’s most valuable players.

Brisbane almost struck back through another solo run from Connors. The in-form Brianna Edwards saved well for Wellington. But this was a warning that even though they defended deep, they were still vulnerable on the counter attack.

Wellington had threats of their own. Millie Clegg has become a dependably creative force in their attack and her swerving footwork opened up space for a shot that brought the best out of Hensley Hancuff. The Roar keeper pushed wide what looked to be a certain goal.

Connors continued to test the Wellington defence in the second half. She won the ball from the Phoenix defender and raced toward goal. To her frustration, her shot missed the target and skidded wide.

When her goal finally arrived it was worth the wait. The Roar midfield obviously backed her pace and another long pass was exactly what she wanted. Although she was shoulder to shoulder to Mackenzie Barry when the move started, Connors had enough acceleration to get goal side and kept her composure to finish low beyond Edwards to level the scores in the 80th minute.

Neither side was happy with the draw and Wellington brought on Whinham and Satchell in an attempt to break the deadlock. Barry’s perfectly hit long ball almost set Satchell up for a winner. The lighting quick winger caught up to the ball and rounded Hancuff, but her touch took her wide and the chance petered out.

The final stages of the match were end-to-end and Brisbane would feel unlucky not to have snatched a late win. Connors’ low ball across the face of goal only needed a touch to go in, but Margot Robbine was well-defended and Wellington escaped the attack unscathed.

The draw does not do much for either team’s season. Brisbane’s finals hopes appear to have dwindled and Phoenix will just want to keep improving and retain players.

With four games left to play, neither side looks likely of cracking the top four, but both are still capable of playing some highly entertaining football. This was a fantastic football match and although neither coach was happy with the result, they could find positives in the performances.

“We’ve said it a few times this season that we deserve something out of the game, but we deserved to win the game,” Lawrence told media post-match.

“I don’t think we’ve been that dominant in a game yet in our history, where we’ve had so many chances. Some of the stuff there was actually described to me as scintillating, which I thought was quite a nice way to describe it.”

Despite their improvements on the pitch, Wellington Phoenix are still bottom of the ladder, four points adrift of Newcastle Jets. Yet at the present time, whilst Phoenix are clearly getting better, the same cannot be said for Newcastle, which offers Lawrence and her team real hope of avoiding the wooden spoon.

“We are still in reach of them,” the Phoenix head coach said. “We play them and we have two games in hand, so I feel like destiny is in our hands to achieve our goal of not only beating the points tally of last season but getting off the bottom of the league.

“This game has meant that we’ve got points out of four games this season, which is one more than last season. There are huge, huge positives.”

Lawrence was also frustrated by the fact that Brisbane Roar captain Ayesha Norrie escaped a red card for pushing Betsy Hassett in the face.

“I don’t know what the referee saw there but if that’s not a red card I don’t know what is. Once again, we leave a little bit frustrated with the officiating. If they’re down to 10 players, we’re 1-0 up and we’re as dominant as we are then the game probably looks a little bit different.”

Teams: WELLINGTON PHOENIX (4-3-3): Edwards, Barry, Van Der Meer, Taylor, Foster, Wisnewski, Hassett, Knott, Clegg, Pritchard, Robertson. Substitutes: Brown, Vosper, Whinham, Satchell, Rolston.

Scorers: Van Der Meer 26′.

BRISBANE ROAR (3-4-3): Hancuff, Ling, Norrie, Rankin, Rasschaert, Palmer, Davern, Kramer, Freier, Connors, Riley. Substitutes: Shuttleworth, Stephenson, McQueen, Levin, Robbine.

Scorers: Connors 80′.

Referee: Anna-Marie Keighley.

Attendance: 2,574.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On her Side.

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